For a second time since the late 1980’s a pulp mill in Tasmania has been delayed by green campaigning. This week we will see if another pulp mill – a value adding, downstream processing, job-creating factory – will also be thrown on the political scrap heap.
If the pulp mill assessment Bill is not approved by Tasmania’s Upper House, it is likely the project will be ‘dead in the water’. If this occurs, will Tasmania’s economy suffer again from the ‘Green Disease’ as described in a 1999 Institute of Public Affairs article by senior Press Gallery journalist David Barnett describing the politics leading to the scrapping of the Wesley Vale Mill.
Since the Wesley Vale Mill’s debacle, a lot has happened in Tasmanian forestry. The Commonwealth and State Governments have negotiated a Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) on the sustainable management of our forests and the Commonwealth published Environmental Guidelines for a Bleached Kraft Pulp mill. Technology has also moved on and improved and the bleaching of the pulp is no longer done by elemental chlorine which previously raised concerns about pollution. Today ECF and TCF are the standard.
In 2002, the 5 year review of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement confirmed that we have a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system, ecological sustainable forest management and opportunities exist for industry development.
In 2003, the Tasmanian Government tasked the ‘Resource Planning and Development Commission’ (RPDC) to update the Commonwealth emission guidelines for pulp mills, this saw new guidelines approved in October 2004.
In December 2004, Gunns proposed a Pulp mill that was declared a Project of State Significance (POSS).
In terms of the small Tasmanian economy it certainly is significant, potentially adding $6.7 billion (+2.5%) to the economy, including an additional $894 million in extra tax revenue between 2008-2030, 3,400 more jobs in the state than if the mill were not constructed and once operational, an average 1,617 more Tasmanian jobs.
However, the assessment process has come to a crisis point following two directions hearings held by the RPDC. These hearings were held after almost two years. There was one year to develop guidelines for an “Integrated Impact Statement”, and another year for the developer to write such an impact statement, time for the public to provide written comment and for the RPDC consultants to undertake independent peer review.
At the first directions hearings the Greens challenged a panel member, Dr Raverty, because he was an employee of a joint venture with CSIRO. They challenged the CSIRO’s TAPM (the air pollution model) and other CSIRO activities including the fact sheet by ENSIS.
This legal challenge resulted in Dr Raverty resigning, leading to the Panel Chairman also resigning, a new panel being appointed and a second directions hearing being held.
At the conclusion of that 2nd preliminary hearing in February no definite date had been given for future optional hearings, and no detailed time line given, only a time span, may be November, maybe next year!
Gunns Limited, the developer, withdrew from the RPDC stating that the assessment process was too long, and was too opened to enable due and proper project management in terms of accessing capital and ordering equipment. They considered that each additional month of delay was costing $10 million.
In order to salvage the project the Tasmanian Government has introduced a Bill that will see the assessment process finalized by an expert consultant, with a definite time table of assessment. The consultant’s report will be submitted to Parliament by 31 August 2006. Then both Houses of Parliament must consider the report and approve/ reject the project.
The Bill requires the project to be assessed against the emission guidelines approved in 2004.
A casual glance at Tasmanian media will confirm that this situation has created literally hundreds of news stories in Tasmania with private conversations being reported, speculation of conspiracy, cherry picking reports and documents, and so called independent experts offering their opinions.
The Lower House approved the Bill with 21 of the 25 members supporting it. Today it is debated in the State’s Upper House, the Legislative Council.
Cinders also provided me with a link to a letter from Rodney Stagg, Retired bushman and log truck owner, sent to the RPDC on 30th August, click here: http://www.rpdc.tas.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/69061/11_Rodney_Stagg.pdf